Lilian Whitehead (1894-1959) was a British printmaker and painter. She was born in Bury, Lancashire, to the family of a newspaper proprietor and publisher. Whitehead studied at Bury School of Arts (1912-1914), Manchester School of Art (1914-1917), and the Slade School of Fine Art (1917-1918). Her works were exhibited at the Baillie Gallery, New English Art Club, the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in London and the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. In 1921, at the age of 27, Lilian Whitehead was awarded the Rome Scholarship by the BSR’s Faculty of Engraving, becoming the first woman to hold this award. She joined Job Nixon, the Rome Scholar for Engraving of 1920. Many copies of her prints and engravings, along with photo portraits, and correspondence are held in the BSR archives. 

During the first two years of the scholarship, Whitehead did preparatory drawings and designs for engraving plates, travelling across central and northern Italy. The files at the BSR’s archive allow us to map her itinerary: Whitehead’s sketches and drawings were made in Orvieto, Subiaco, Perugia, and Siena. In one of her reports, Whitehead notes that, while in Rome, the artist enjoyed visiting “galleries, museums, and the churches, studying especially the mosaics” in which she was “very interested”. After preparatory sketches, studies and designs were complete, Whitehead moved on to finalise compositions for the etching plates and drypoints during the third and final year of her tenure at the BSR. 

  • L Whitehead, Etching, The Soap-Bubble, circa 1923, BSR Fine Arts Archive

Whitehead’s etchings and drawings often capture scenes from quotidian life in Italy, revealing connections the artist established with Italian people outside of the School. Among other settings, she depicted Italian orchestra musicians, a barkeeper at work, a scene at the coffee show, a waiter, a girl sewing, and groups of tourists exploring Rome. The artist also produced images of Italian historical architecture: Porta Romana in Orvieto, the view onto Perugia, and the Roman Forum. Whitehead reported being overwhelmed with Rome’s variety of ideas and possibilities, so it took her considerable time to settle on the final designs. 

Some of the notable etchings produced during her residency at the BSR and later exhibited in the UK are St. John the Baptist, Bubbles, Candlelight, and A Waiter. These works allow us to see the formation of Whitehead’s personal style and mastery in depicting light, movement, and atmosphere.  

On behalf of the BSR’s Faculty of Engraving, Lilian Whitehead requested books and journals that are now held at the BSR’s library. These are, for example, collections of Goya’s etchings, the catalogue of works of a Scottish etcher and watercolourist Muirhead Bone, examples of etchings by French and British artist Alphonse Legros and other publications which trace historical and contemporary influences Whitehead was exposed to while in Rome. 

  • Lilian Whitehead's personal file, portrait photo (BSR Fine Arts Archive)
  • Lilian Whitehead's personal file, portrait photo, recto (BSR Fine Arts Archive)
  • Lilian Whitehead's personal file, Report, June 1924 (BSR Fine Arts Archive)
  • Lilian Whitehead's personal file, List Of Drawings and Etchings, 1923 (BSR Fine Arts Archive)
  • Lilian Whitehead's personal file, portrait photo, verso (BSR Fine Arts Archive)

Where would you like to go next? Who would you like to meet?

Explore the Lilian Whitehead Collection in the BSR Fine Arts Archive
Meet Job Nixon (1891-1938)
Learn more about Engraving at the BSR, 1913-1930
Visit the BSR Library

Sources:

Lilian Whitehead, Modern British Art Gallery: https://www.modernbritishartgallery.com/works__A_204__.htm

British School at Rome Administrative Records / Awards and Funding Bodies / Visual Art / Rome Scholarship in Engraving

For a full bibliography and further reading, see here.